Organizing, managing, and cataloging collections is among a museum’s central—and often most challenging—missions. Ideally, a museum collections management system is user-friendly and perfectly suited to the tasks a museum wishes it to perform. A database system should be compatible with, and help to enact a museum’s collections management policy. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many museums are currently using systems not specifically designed for museum needs.
In large part, this is because evaluating the different types of database systems on the market is confusing and challenging. Many of these systems function in similar ways, and their capabilities often overlap. In addition, when discussing these database systems, people often use their acronyms interchangeably. Despite the confusion related to terminology, these systems can make an institution or organization more efficient and effective if their intended use matches their capabilities. Collecting institutions and corporations should seek the database system best suited to their needs. Read on to learn more about the different database systems, and how their particular capabilities might serve your institution. These systems include:
- DAM or DAMS: Digital Asset Management System
- MAMS: Media Asset Management System
- CMS: Collections Management System
Definitions: DAMS and MAMS
A digital asset management system (DAMS) works like an archive directory. Digital files that can be ingested into a DAMS include video, audio, images, presentations, and documents in almost any digital format. Within a DAMS, digital data assets and their associated metadata are searchable. Authorized staff members can access your organization’s DAMS to find, retrieve, share and edit data. A DAMS can serve a variety of functions: marketing teams can use a DAMS to archive and access sales and brand-related data; production teams can use a DAMS to organize their digital assets; libraries and other organizations that archive their digital assets can use a DAMS for this purpose.
In the world of data management, the terms DAMS and MAMS are often used interchangeably. Both acronyms refer to systems that allow users to archive and access digital materials in a variety of formats. The term MAMS, however, often (but not always) refers to a digital asset management system specifically geared toward supporting the storage and organization of video files. Though the functionality of a DAMS and a MAMS is the same—both are designed to store, organize, and facilitate ease of access to digital files—the term MAMS is most often used for video or broadcast media contexts wherein the primary form of data being stored is video.
Definition: Collections Management System (CMS)
Collections management systems (CMS) are designed for use in GLAM collecting institutions such as libraries, museums, galleries, and historical societies. This software allows staff to organize, control, and manage their collections’ objects. Whereas a DAMS or a MAMS focuses on storing digital files, a CMS is designed to manage information associated with your museum’s physical objects. For both a DAMS and a MAMS, digital files are the data; in a CMS, the digital files are indexes of physical items in an organization’s collection. Ideally, an organization’s museum collections management system allows staff to track all information related to these items. For collecting institutions whose mission is to collect, store, and manage physical assets, a CMS offers ideal functionality.
Many organizations and institutions—particularly small and local ones—have inherited a database system that may not be ideally suited to their needs. For example, a DAM cannot always track and organize the physical assets included in a museum’s collection. Many organizations find themselves forcing an asset management system to perform tasks for which it is not designed. Finding the right CMS can improve an organization’s ability to archive and search its data. For museums, the right CMS helps staff perform the tasks associated with museum collections management efficiently and effectively.
How Corporations and Institutions Can Best Manage Assets
When determining which software to select, a company or collecting institution should carefully consider its target audience and what it hopes to deliver to this audience. Often, teams within a corporation are handed a database system that another team uses, but which does not offer optimal functionality for its needs. A DAMS that is serving as an effective system for the marketing department, for instance, may not be ideal for archiving and organizing a corporation’s other assets—digital and otherwise. For some departments, for example, the database system needs to be designed for internal use. But many collecting institutions require a system that is designed to share archived collections with the public.
The best possible software solution is one that is designed to perform the tasks that make your organization—or a team within your organization—most successful. Irrespective of the acronym that applies to the asset management system your organization chooses, the crucial question should be: is this the best system for managing your specific assets?
Collections Management Professionals Lend Expertise
The process of choosing the best possible CMS for your institution includes many factors. You will need to research the wide variety of vendors who offer software solutions and determine which CMS, MAMS, or DAMS is compatible with your organization’s existing hardware and software. Your organization would benefit from discovering what other organizations use the software you are considering– contacting these institutions may help you to identify the pros and cons of each system. Certainly, your organization’s budget is a factor: the cost of implementing a new database system can be substantial, and other costs associated with digital storage, ongoing training, maintenance, and support must be included in your analysis. Once you decide on the database system that best serves your organization, you’ll need to create a training plan to address how staff will use that system. A well-trained staff is a crucial component of this process– for your system to function well, the people using it need to understand it thoroughly and be able to execute the tasks your institution requires.
Your organization’s collections and data have great value, but to maximize this value, your staff needs to know exactly what you have, where it is, and how to effectively share it with your audience. The museum collections management professionals at History Associates Inc. (HAI) have extensive knowledge of the functions that collecting institutions and corporations need their database systems to perform. The consultants at HAI can help you identify exactly what requirements your management system needs to fulfill, and which software systems can do so most effectively. Our collections management services help organizations differentiate among MAMs, DAMS, and CMSs, and choose the optimal system for their needs and their audience.
Several of the many collections management services that HAI offers include:
- CMS consulting
- DAMS consulting
- Collections database assessments
- Program management
- Project management
- Staffing support
All of these services facilitate a careful consideration of your organization’s management options and needs. HAI’s collections management team has extensive experience engaging in all of these processes with the end goal of helping your institution find the best possible collections management solution. Contact HAI to learn more about how our experts can help your institution or corporation maximize the value of its collections by choosing exactly the right management system.